TAX relief sites have come into force on a Highland green freeport – a key milestone for the controversial project.

Legislation has been completed creating tax sites – where companies will be given tax relief for the next decade – at the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport.

The organisation said the move would create more than 10,000 jobs in the Highlands and Islands and attract in excess of £3 billion of investment.

Its critics however say the sites are open to exploitation by criminals – with the EU clamping down on 82 freeports or free zones which had been aiding the financing of terrorism and organised crime.

And they have raised concerns that green freeports allow companies to avoid paying taxes and escape regulation.

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer previously branded them “an experiment in a really radical kind of neoliberalism”.

But Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport chief executive Calum MacPherson said the creation of the tax sites on Monday was a “critical milestone” in the establishment of the project.

He said: “Together, our tax sites, totalling around 520 hectares, amount to the largest green engineering development site in the UK.

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“The incentives available will attract world-wide interest and help realise the region’s potential to become the largest European hub for the development of the offshore wind industry and associated renewable energy technologies.

“Although the green freeport has only just gained tax site status, it has already been helping make our area the focus of attention for the international renewables industry.”

MacPherson said the Cromarty freeport was a “key factor” in the recent decision by Japanese firm Sumitomo to develop a new cable factor at Nigg, Easter Ross.

“There are currently 20 offshore wind farm developments, representing a combined investment of almost £30bn, being planned, with many of them close to the east coast of the Highlands,” he added.

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“Green freeport status for the area, which has been supported from the outset by the green energy industry, gives us the opportunity to maximise the lasting benefit to the region from that unprecedented opportunity.

“The Highlands and Islands are a focal point for the UK’s transition to renewable energy and the drive towards net-zero.”

While the new tax benefits are now live, a final business case is still being prepared for the Highland Council, which will then be sent to the UK and Scottish governments.

Trade Minister Richard Lochhead said the Scottish Government would “continue to work closely” with the freeport as it developed the final business case.